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Throughout his racing career, Fairbury's Jeff Curl has been known as one of the area's top modified competitors.

In the pit area, he's also been known as "one of the good guys."

On race nights, whenever a fellow competitor discovered he had inadvertently left a needed part or piece of equipment back at the shop, Curl could be the go-to guy to fill the need or give advice.

His latest act of generosity, however, goes well beyond the loan of a gadget, widget, knowledge or air-wrench.

His latest gift is the gift of hope, hope for the healthy extension of a productive, precious life.

On May 17, Curl, 40, and his half-sister Michelle, 21, will both undergo surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. At that time, he will donate a kidney and she will be the recipient. 

The Bible tells us "...tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

In walking out the passage firsthand, Michelle has had plenty of tribulation over the past several years. It was at age 13 she learned her kidneys weren't functioning properly.

"I've had treatments and been on medication for a long time," she said.

She's persevered through the treatments while living an otherwise normal and productive life. A 2016 graduate of Prairie Central High School, Michelle is a junior at Eureka College studying graphic design and sports business.

Her character shines through in her roles as a captain of the Eureka cheer squad and in a leadership capacity at her sorority.

About a year ago, her health took a significant turn for the worse.

"Last summer, at the end of my sophomore year at Eureka, I wasn't feeling good at all and I was getting sick all of the time," she said. "It was then that I discovered that I needed a transplant."

An extensive search for a donor began with some early encouragement.

"A lot of people registered for it and they were constantly testing people," she said.

The bad news? Finding a match was proving difficult.

"It was just very stressful, not knowing if they were going to find anyone," she said.

Compounding the worry and anxiety was a developing sense of urgency.

"I was still doing OK enough to function on my own for a little while, but at the end of December I started dialysis," she said.

That sense of urgency helped spur big brother Jeff to act.

"I didn't sign up right away because they were getting some positive feedback in regard to potential donors. But they kind of all fell through," he said. "When she had to go through dialysis, that was enough for me."

Jeff's first order of business was a lengthy, heart-to-heart talk with his wife, Bridget, about potential ramifications.

The couple has three children, ages 9-15, who Michelle would occasionally babysit.

"Bridget told me it was my decision and she would support whatever I decided, 100 percent," Jeff said.

In the car ride to the hospital for testing, she also said something that proved prophetic.

"She told me, 'I just know you're going to be the match,'" he said.

To find out for sure, medical personnel at the hospital poked and prodded and hooked Jeff up to a multitude of the machinery of modern medicine.

"I spent about 16 to 20 hours at the hospital undergoing tests," he said. "I think I underwent every test under the sun just to see if I was a healthy enough candidate to donate a kidney."

With Jeff passing muster in that stage of the process, it then became a matter of doctors diving into some intensive laboratory work to find out if he and Michelle were a match.

Jeff did it while flying under the radar.

"Bridget and I were the only ones that knew I was doing this," he said. "When it came back 100 percent positive, we told Michelle and the rest of the family."

The good news came to Michelle and Jeff in early April. It was shared in a rather unique setting.

"My dad (Steve) and I had gone to Farmer City for the Illini 100 because Jeff was racing," Michelle said. "While we were there, Jeff pulled me aside and told me he heard I had gotten some good news about a kidney donor. I asked him how he knew that. He said, 'I know because I'm the donor.'

"I was just totally in shock. I didn't know how to react because I was just stunned, totally in shock. Then, all of a sudden, tears just began pouring out of my eyes."

They were tears of hope and gratitude. 

Hope for a healthy life going forward, free of medication and seemingly endless hours on a dialysis machine, and gratitude to a brother for providing her with a priceless gift toward that aim.

Jeff's hope is for a speedy comeback from the surgery. He's anticipating a shorter than normal recovery time.

"I've always been an optimistic person," he said.

An incredibly generous one, too.

Bruce Yentes covers motorsports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at (309) 820-3391 or byentes@pantagraph.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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